Something phony

I saw part of a good old movie this morning, “Nothing Sacred.” The movie, made in 1937, is a caustic Ben Hecht satire about a woman (Carole Lombard) who pretends to be dying and becomes the toast of New York through stories written by a reporter (Frederic March). The movie is all about fraud, deceit and sham. It prompted me to think about the word “phony,” so I looked it up.

“Phony” is a versatile word: It can be an adjective, a noun or a verb. “Phony,” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says, probably comes from “fawney,” a brass ring used in a confidence game. It came into our usage around the turn of the 20th century. “Fawney,” the dictionary reports, was from the Irish Gaelic word “fainne” for “ring.” The Mavens’ Word of the Day has an explanation of the word and the con game. The Word Detective writes about the word, too.

In looking around for more about “phony,” I checked WordOrigins.org, a site about etymology. If you like to study the origins of English words, this is an interesting site.

Keywords: grammar guide, language, writing

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.